CHABERT DE JONCAIRE, PHILIPPE-THOMAS, called Nitachinon by the Iroquois, trader, officer in the colonial regular troops, Indian agent, and interpreter; baptized 9 Jan. 1707 in Montreal; son of Louis-Thomas Chabert* de Joncaire and Marie-Madeleine Le Gay de Beaulieu; m. Madeleine Renaud Dubuisson 23 July 1731; d. c. 1766.
At the age of ten, Philippe-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire went to live among the Senecas, probably at Ganundasaga (near Geneva, N.Y.) where his father’s trading post is said to have been located. From then until the fall of New France he spent most of his time in the west. He entered the colonial regular troops in 1726, became a second ensign in 1727, and rose to captain by 1751; but he had a diplomat’s career, not a soldier’s.
In 1735 he succeeded his father as principal agent for New France among the Iroquois. As such, he was hostage, trader, interpreter, and political agent. He had to supply the European trade goods on which the Indians had become dependent. He was obliged to pacify the Iroquois when the French or their Indian allies did something disquieting, and to mollify the French when young warriors, contrary to tribal policy, committed an aggression. Hostility towards Indian nations unfriendly to the French had to be maintained. British initiatives, such as the summoning to Chouaguen (Oswego, N.Y.) in December 1743 of one warrior from every village, required reporting to the governor. Some persuasion was needed to keep the Senecas supplying Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) with fresh game. So successful was Joncaire that by 1744 the British had offered a reward for him dead or alive. Governor George Clinton of New York hopefully half-believed rumours that he might join the British service if good terms were offered.
Joncaire resigned his post in 1748, pleading ill health (and was succeeded by his brother, Daniel*). His wife had died two years before and he may have wished to stay in Montreal to look after their three young children, but he was soon recalled to the frontier. In 1749 he became interpreter and adviser for Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville’s expedition to the Ohio valley. Going ahead to establish first contact with the Shawnees, Delawares, and Mingos, Joncaire narrowly escaped death when he was seized at Sonioto (Portsmouth, Ohio) by some Shawnees who feared the French had come to destroy them. He was saved by the intervention of an Iroquois bystander.
When Céloron forces withdrew in the autumn, Joncaire accompanied them. In 1750 he returned to the area and was stationed at Chiningué (Logstown, now Ambridge, Pa.) with 12 soldiers to prepare the ground for a more substantial French occupation. He reported that all the Indians favoured the traders from Pennsylvania and Virginia who ventured into the region, but with bribes, threats, and promises he struggled to win them over. When Paul Marin de La Malgue arrived in 1753 to build a line of forts linking Lake Erie and the Ohio, many Delawares and Shawnees, overawed by the large French force and perhaps willing to see Iroquois influence in the area challenged, proclaimed themselves in favour of his presence. Moved to Venango (Franklin, Pa.), until 1755 Joncaire was in charge of the delicate diplomacy required to maintain the goodwill of the Delawares and Shawnees and to neutralize the opposition of Tanaghrisson, spokesman for the Iroquois colonists on the Ohio, who protested the construction of forts.
The final crisis in Joncaire’s 35-year rivalry with the British for Iroquois allegiance began in 1755. Replaced at Venango by Michel Maray de La Chauvignerie, he returned to Niagara in the summer. In that tense season, when four separate enemy armies approached the borders of New France, Governor Pierre de Rigaud* de Vaudreuil was anxious to learn the sentiments of the Iroquois. “I sent my orders to M. Joncaire, the elder, to remain constantly with them. He has run from village to village, and met colonel [William Johnson’s] and M. [William Shirley’s] emissaries in each,” he reported.
Though he dared not visit the Onondagas, Tuscaroras, or Oneidas for fear of British ambush, from his post with the Senecas Joncaire could learn of developments among all the Iroquois and promulgate French policy among them. He called on them to supply war parties to aid the French or, failing that, to observe strictly the neutrality they had officially prescribed for themselves; and he warned that if any of them were to heed Sir William Johnson*, the British superintendent of Indian affairs, and side with the enemy, their villages would be laid waste by the nations of the pays d’en haut. The destruction of Chouaguen by Montcalm in 1756 lent a temporary weight to Joncaire’s words. At Niagara in February 1757, 60 warriors sang the war song, and by April Joncaire had paid them for 38 British scalps.
In 1758, as the Indians saw emerging evidence of British power, bad signs for the French cause began to appear. Some Senecas asked the British to send them a gunsmith (always a person in a position to exercise great political influence). Joncaire’s network of informants failed to give the alarm that might have saved Fort Frontenac (Kingston, Ont.) from capture by John Bradstreet* in August. In June 1759 a party of Mohawks, traditional friends of the English, ventured into Seneca country and surprised Joncaire in his trading post. A leap through a window saved his life, but his son-in-law, Honoré Dubois de La Milletière, was taken prisoner and another companion killed.
Joncaire retreated to Niagara and was captured in July when the fort fell. British garrisons in the western posts, made permanent when Montreal capitulated in 1760, meant that his life’s work had been ruined by causes outside his influence, and Canada’s first tradition in diplomacy was ended. He went to France, where he was made a knight of the order of Saint-Louis. Whether he ever returned to Canada is uncertain, although a letter written 9 Nov. 1766 by Lieutenant Governor Guy Carleton* refers to him, saying he is “now dead.”
AN, Col., C11A, 77, ff.204–6v; 79, ff.167–77v; 81, ff.210–10v; 101, ff.5–6v; 102, ff.9–11; 103, ff. 111–12v; D2C, 222, f.325; F3, 14, ff. 159v–60. Bougainville, Journals (Hamilton). JR (Thwaites), LXIX. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), VI-X. Papiers Contrecœur (Grenier). [Pierre] Pouchot, Memoir upon the late war in North America, between the French and the English, 1756–60 . . . , trans. from French ed. of 1781 by F. B. Hough (2v., Roxbury, Mass., 1866). Gipson, British empire before the American revolution, I-VII. W. A. Hunter, Forts on the Pennsylvania frontier, 1753–1758 (Harrisburg, Pa., 1960). F. H. Severance, An old frontier of France: the Niagara region and adjacent lakes under French control (2v., New York, 1917).